KENDALLVILLE — Finally.
On its sixth attempt, Kendallville’s request for $600,000 in funding to revamp the downtown corridor was funded by the Indiana Department of Office of Community and Rural Affairs.
“I was ecstatic upon hearing the news of receiving the OCRA grant for our downtown revitalization project. The much-needed improvements to our infrastructure will at long last be addressed,” Mayor Suzanne Handshoe said in a statement Aug. 15.
The city had unsuccessfully applied for the grant five times before — not getting it funded four times and being disqualified once because the application arrived late — but got it this time around after making a change in grant writers.
Shannon McLeod of Priority Project Resources, who the city hired this spring, has a nearly perfect track record with these types of state grants, and that record was validated.
Aug. 15’s grant announcements from the state brought good news to Kendallville, but bad news to Ligonier, which was not funded again for a $480,000 stormwater grant.
In total, 17 rural Hoosier communities were awarded more than $10.5 million in federal grant funding in this cycle. The state distributes Community Development Block Grant funds to rural communities to assist units of local government with various community projects such as: infrastructure improvement, downtown revitalization, public facilities and economic development.
“We’re thrilled to support such a diverse array of projects in cities and towns throughout rural Indiana,” said Jodi Golden, Executive Director of OCRA. “Communities with reliable infrastructure are positioned for growth and an improved quality of life.”
Kendallville was one of three communities funded through the Main Street Revitalization Program this time around, along with the city of Kirklin, located about 35 miles north of Indianapolis, and the town of Hope, located just northeast of Columbus.
The city’s $1.1 million streetscape project will transform the downtown corridor between Rush Street and the railroad tracks. The brunt of the project will include tearing out and fully replacing sidewalks and curbs. The current sidewalks were installed in 1987, the city engineer noted at a past city council meeting.
As part of the project, Kendallville will also upgrade its downtown electrical capacity for festivals and events as well as install decorative lighting, planters, benches and other features.
The streetscape is expected to boost the downtown appeal and connect with other efforts to make downtown more attractive. The Kendallville Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council is in the process of doing an alleyscape to create a gathering place in the alley on the south side of the Strand Theatre, while 2019 events including the first-ever Fairy, Gnome and Troll Festival and two Food Truck Friday events this summer brought thousands of people to Main Street.
“The goal of making our downtown a destination point has many facets and the new and improved streetscape will be an essential element of this,” Handshoe said. “Building improvements through façade grants, the ever-growing number of family-friendly downtown activities, the parklet experience, ‘The Alley’ cultural space renovation, as well a planned pocket park near City Hall will all serve to breathe new life into our beloved historical downtown.”
With the money in place, the expectation is that downtown Kendallville will be a construction zone once the weather turns in 2020.
The city is expected to rapidly put the project out for bids and get a contractor lined up for next year’s construction season. City Engineer Scott Derby said there would be no benefit to waiting to get a contractor, so the goal will be to lock in a firm sooner than later and have it on their schedule for next year.
“We’re looking at 2020 work for sure,” Kendallville City Engineer Scott Derby said. “It’s definitely too late this year to get anything in terms of construction started.”
Once the streetscape project is completed, the city then also intends to mill and repave Main Street, maintenance work that the city has been holding off on while waiting for the streetscape project to come through.
Derby said ideally the new pavement would be put down next year too, although that will depend on the schedule of the sidewalk and curb work as well as the funding source for the street work.
“We’d love to see both happen next year,” Derby said.
Once a contractor is selected, the city and construction firm will develop plans on how the project will advance and how access will be maintained for downtown businesses.
How exactly the project will be built is to be decided. Handshoe said the city will work with a contractor to see how the work will be phased, then connect with downtown building owners to discuss ways to make sure their buildings are still accessible.
As for downtown festivals and events, organizers may be able to shift what they’re doing to one side of the street or other, or move up or down a block, to avoid construction zones, the mayor said.
“We want to hear from the business owners of how do we do this block by block?” Handshoe said. “We have to keep access to the theater ... and we don’t want to hurt our restaurants or services. We’ll work with them and figure out how do we get customers into their door.”
The $600,000 grant will pay for a little more than half of the project, with the remainder being covered by $160,000 in available funds from the Kendallville Redevelopment Commission; a $300,000 loan by the redevelopment commission, which will be backed by city’s tax-increment financing revenue; and $45,000 provided by the Community Foundation of Noble County.
As for Ligonier, the west-side city is once again on the outside looking in, as its stormwater project was not funded for the third time in a row.
“I’m very, very disappointed. We had spent a lot of time trying to work on our application, and everybody worked really hard,” Ligonier Mayor Patty Fisel said.
Ligonier was seeking $480,000 to continue stormwater and sewer separation work in the city. By creating separate inlets and lines for stormwater, the city is aiming to reduce the amount of clear water being sent to and treated at the wastewater treatment plant.
Fisel said Ligonier had hired a grant writer too, theirs from Region 3A, but was still denied the funds.
“We’ll review it, and we’ll figure out where we need to make changes,” Fisel said.
Reducing the flow would reduce the city’s cost, since Ligonier would not be wasting energy and chemicals treating generally clean rain water.
This time around, OCRA chose to only fund two stormwater projects, each for $600,000.
In other categories, OCRA funded three public facilities grants and nine wastewater drinking water program applications.
News Sun reporter Sara Barker contributed to this report.